Advent 3 year A, December 11, 2016, Gretchen Rehberg
Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?
John the Baptist sends some of his disciples to Jesus to ask him this question – are you the one, are you the Messiah? We are 11 chapters away from last’s weeks passage when we heard John proclaiming the coming of the Messiah and calling on people to prepare the way of the Lord. A great deal has happened. Jesus was baptized by John, tempted in the wilderness, has been rejected at Nazareth, preached the Sermon on the Mount, calmed the sea, and healed great numbers of people in addition to raising Jarius’s daughter back to life. So Jesus has been active in his ministry, he has been doing just what he said he would do – proclaim good news to the poor and release to the captives, giving sight to the blind and hearing to those who could not hear. It is at this point that John asks him this question – are you it, or do we continue to wait.
Why now, why after all that Jesus has done does John sent word now? Because John is in prison. John was all fired up and sure of himself before, but now, in prison when all seems dark and hopeless and you wonder where God is and if God even exists and if God does exist does God care – now is when John starts to look back on his life and ask if what he did mattered, did he get it right.
This is a common time for people to doubt, when the world seems dark and all seems lost. When family and friends and those we love are in pain, when the world is in chaos and suffering, where is the Messiah? It is important to let John speak for all who are in this place, and to ask for the answer.
We can’t forget that John and Jesus most likely knew each other growing up, Mary and Elizabeth were family after all – Jesus and John are cousins. They would have grown up seeing each other, they were basically the same age. Jesus would have been told the story of how John was announced by an angel – how John was named by an angel and dedicated to the work of God from birth. John would have heard how Jesus also was announced by an angel, announced as the messiah from the very start. I wonder if as young boys and men the two of them ever went off and talked about it – “do you even believe this stuff?” they might have asked each other. “If I do believe it, what does it mean?”
When John starts out his public ministry, shortly before Jesus starts his public ministry, it all makes sense to him. John knows what his job is – announce the coming of the Messiah, call on people to repentance, prepare the way of the Lord – who is Jesus. And John does this well. But now, John starts to doubt.
Yes he is in prison, but perhaps it is more than that, perhaps it is also that Jesus didn’t quite do what John expected. Perhaps John expected a bit more of the throwing off the Romans and a bit less of the loving your enemy. I don’t know, nobody can know, but after teaching and healing and proclaiming good news, John wondered if Jesus was it.
And so Jesus tells him the answer: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Jesus doesn’t say “yes, I am indeed the messiah.” I am not sure what John would have done with that answer anyway – do you believe the one who says they are the Messiah? I can tell you for certain that none of us here would believe someone who walks in and announces they are the Messiah. But when you see the lame walk and the deaf hear and the dead raised – now, well now we need to sit up and take notice. Jesus is simply and quietly reassuring John – do not worry Jesus is saying, your work was not in vain, God has not abandoned you, yes, I am the one who is to come. It was his actions, his acts of love and mercy and healing and compassion which answered the question, answered better than any mere words could have.
The miracles and signs of Jesus spoke to those around him about who God was, and what type of messiah God would send, and what the kingdom of God looks like. The miracles which Jesus worked all seem to involve restoration and wholeness and compassion. Just as they sometimes are today, the deaf, the blind, and the lame were kept outside the mainstream of society. They were often forced to beg to support themselves. Some people viewed their disability as a punishment from God. Lepers were outcasts, unclean, cut off from all social or religious acceptance. Jesus didn’t just heal people physically – he restored them to wholeness, he gave them back their place in society. Jesus both figuratively and literally brought the dead back to life.
The answer that Jesus gave to John’s disciples demonstrate Jesus’ compassion for the least and the lowest. The answer reminds us that Jesus came for the hurting, helpless, overlooked people of society.
John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah and he said go and tell what you see. Go and tell what you see. That is classic evangelism, simply telling what we see, telling what we experience, telling the story of how God has been present in our life. This is classic evangelism – sharing the good news of how God has brought sight to our blindness, hearing to our deafness, healing to our lameness, life to those places where we were dead. This classic evangelism has nothing to do with asking people if they are saved or informing folks what they must do to be saved, it is simply sharing our story. But perhaps even more importantly, the good news of Jesus was how he lived – his own loving actions, his love and mercy and justice and compassion and forgiveness – that was his good news – that God loves us beyond what we can even imagine. That God is present with us in real and tangible ways. That the Holy permeates everything that exists.
I know that evangelism sometimes is considered a bad word among polite Episcopalians, but it shouldn’t be. For it is simply living in such a way that the story of the good news is evident in our life, and then being willing to share the story of that good news when asked.
John was in a place of darkness and pain when he asked Jesus if he was the one to come. Jesus pointed to his actions of healing and love and mercy and compassion and forgives in as the answer.
We are the Body of Christ in the world today, and the world is still can be a place of darkness and pain. Sometimes folks look at the Christians in the world and wonder – are you the one who is to come, or shall we wait for another. May all of us here do our part to be able to answer with Jesus – go and tell what you see.